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Opinion: World needs an arms treaty

A tank abandoned by pro-Gadhafi forces on the

A tank abandoned by pro-Gadhafi forces on the outskirts of Zintan, western Libya. (July 9, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

There's less oversight on sales of grenade launchers in international markets than of iPods or bananas. Yes, you read that right: We have strict international rules and regulations on selling fruit and MP3 players, but no unifying international laws governing the sale of weapons.

This has allowed arms dealers to supply weapons to terrorists and almost every place that has been under United Nations arms embargoes during the past 15 years -- including Liberia, Darfur in the Sudan and the Congo -- a fact that should concern every American.

Thankfully, the United States can help bring some common sense to the international arms market during the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in New York City this month. While the United States maintains some of the strictest regulations on the import and export of tanks, guns, missiles, ammunition and other arms, many countries have little to no regulation at all. This patchwork system makes it all too easy for traffickers to sell powerful weapons and ammunition to terrorists and warlords that they can then use against our troops and innocent civilians.

If agreed to, the Arms Trade Treaty would establish a global framework and close loopholes exploited by those intent on achieving power through terror. Such a treaty would also help authorities track and extradite illicit arms brokers and bring the rest of the world more in line with the rigorous standards and regulations already in force in the United States. This is why you see a joint byline like ours -- retired U.S. military leaders have joined with America's religious communities to support a robust Arms Trade Treaty.

The National Association of Evangelicals and National Council of Churches, together with global Christian voices including the Vatican and the World Evangelical Alliance, have called on world leaders to negotiate a strong arms treaty. Last spring, Christians from over 3,500 congregations in 48 states joined in a day of prayer and fasting to draw attention to the fact that the "least of these" suffer the most when weapons flow unimpeded into conflict zones. The congregants were joined in their support for the treaty by a number of retired generals and admirals who echoed the CIA's assessment that the greatest future threats to America's troops and security will likely come from terrorist groups and small bands of guerrilla fighters arming themselves through the under-regulated weapons market.

Although the moral and security arguments for a robust Arms Trade Treaty are clear, critics claim that it would interfere with the right of Americans to own guns. This fear, if genuine, is misplaced. The rules created to govern the negotiations explicitly prevent the treaty from having an impact on domestic gun laws or sales within countries. Furthermore, the U.S. delegation involved in negotiating the treaty has forcefully echoed the sentiments of a number of senators, stating that it will not agree to a treaty that infringes upon our Second Amendment rights.

The Arms Trade Treaty will not end war, terrorism or violence. But it will reduce the flow of deadly weapons to terrorists, gangs, rebels, rogue states and criminals. And it will mean that regional and civil conflicts are less likely to spiral out of control into large-scale violence.

It's clear that it is in our moral and national security interests. What is unclear is why anyone would risk undermining a treaty that could save lives and promote our national security.Rear Admiral Stuart F. Platt, retired, was appointed by the Reagan administration as the U.S. Navy's first Competition Advocate General. Galen Carey is the vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals.

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